Every CEO’s nightmare is watching profits turn from black to red. Your company was once at the top of the market, raking in the cash. Now it’s losing money, and you’re trying to get back on track. The struggle to stay in the black reminds me of AC/DC’s “Back In Black:”


‘Cause I’m back on the track and I’m beatin’ the flack

Nobody’s gonna get me on another rap

So look at me now, I’m just makin’ my play

Don’t try to push your luck, just get out of my way…

Yes I’m back

Well I’m back in black

— AC/DC, “Back In Black”


Unfortunately, the switch from red to black doesn’t happen overnight. It requires proper financial planning and a redefined business model.


Stay on top of your finances


One thing I found is that many CEOs are horrible with numbers. When they started their business, they were adept in the technical aspects, but lacked knowledge in the financial portion. It’s safe to say most entrepreneurs aren’t financial geniuses. As a result, CEOs get in trouble either by not watching their finances carefully, not hiring people to handle their finances, or not watching the people they DO hire.

On top of having a team of financial experts, CEOs need to make sure they have the right checks and balances. Don’t give the “keys to the kingdom” to any single individual. Even as a small company, I had a full time employee who did the bookkeeping, a CPA who came in once/month for a couple of hours to make sure everything was in order and who did some mid-level work like provide me a cash flow forecast that monitors my assets, and finally I had a larger accounting firm do my business taxes (and my personal taxes).  Having these three involved made me feel comfortable that no “funny stuff” could go on.  Definitely less chance of any embezzlement.


Adjust your business model


Taking inventory and cutting costs only goes so far to increase your profits. CEOs often forget to fine-tune their business model. Sure, you’ve built the perfect business model when you first started your company. But the environment, market, or economy might have changed since then – all that factors into your bottom line.

If you’re losing money or your sales are down, it could be that what you’re offering isn’t good enough anymore. Your first step is to look at your churn. If your customers are leaving you, you should stop and wonder why.

The case could be that disruptors are coming into your market, similar to the problem taxi cab companies now face with Uber or what some department stores are facing with Amazon. You might be used to the status quo, while other individuals are constructing innovative ideas to improve an existing industry, or creating products/services to disrupt the industry entirely. When that happens, you need to pivot.  Adapt or die!


Plan ahead to avoid financial hardships


One of the biggest reasons why companies fail is because they don’t have the proper capital or financial backing. You should plan what you need to fund your business at the very beginning, whether it means establishing a line of credit, setting up your bank account, or borrowing from friends and family.  And of course, the banks only lend you money when you don’t need it, so when you are in a good financial position and don’t NEED the money, get that line of credit bumped up or a loan for some ready cash.  If you don’t have enough money or access to quick capital, you might have to pass up on a major contract. That’s a missed opportunity that could have helped you scale your business later down the road.


Stuck in the middle ground


In the book No Man’s Land, Doug Tatum discusses a point where companies are “too big to be small and too small to be big.” This issue appears frequently in the government-contracting world. Companies will grow, leave the small business arena, and go toe-to-toe with big companies like Lockheed Martin, CACI, and Northrop Grumman. You know as well as I do that they don’t have a prayer.

Companies get stuck in this middle ground area, which is horrible. They get to a certain point where they don’t have the proper processes and procedures to run operations like a well-oiled machine. If you don’t create systems, your company will lose traction and money.

There’s almost never just one reason companies lose profits. The correct financial planning coupled with the willingness to adapt, you don’t have to worry about getting “Back in Black”, because you’ll never be in the red.


“Back in black, I hit the sack

I been too long, I’m glad to be back.”

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF:  Back in Black was recorded over seven weeks in the Bahamas in spring 1980. The area was hit by tropical storms at the time, making the sessions difficult at times. Following its completion, the group mixed Back in Black at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The album’s all-black cover was designed as a “sign of mourning” for Bon Scott, the band’s original lead vocalist.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC/DC

WEBSITE: http://www.acdc.com

VIDEO: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=ac+dc+back+in+black+video&&view=detail&mid=7694DE011B7718FAF1DC7694DE011B7718FAF1DC&FORM=VRDGAR


With all of the CEOs I’ve worked with, one of the biggest challenges they face is themselves. In other words, they get in their own way and micromanage their teams. It’s a hard habit to break since they are used to handling so many responsibilities when they first started the company. But as their company grows, they have to start giving up more responsibilities to their employees. Micromanaging your team sends the wrong message and creates a toxic atmosphere. If you want your company to grow, you must create an atmosphere conducive to growth.

Build the right team

The first step is to hire the right people, then groom, and develop them. When you’re confident in your team, you feel comfortable stepping back. Stepping back allows you to spend more time providing strategy, vision, and passion for the organization. What you SHOULD be doing!

The CEO is the visionary, and shouldn’t focus on the daily operational miniscule tasks. I know, easier said than done – and I’ve been guilty of it myself over the years. It all comes down to building the right team, and believing they can do the job.

Loosen your grip

The rock band .38 Special has a song entitled “Hold on Loosely,” which talks about a girl, who’s affectionately known as “baby.” As the song relates to business, think of the “baby” as your company and employees that drive it. I know for a fact that CEOs of small- to medium-sized companies think of their company as their “baby.”

Just hold on loosely but don’t let go

If you cling too tightly

You’re gonna lose control

Your baby needs someone to believe in

And a whole lot of space to breathe in

It’s so damn easy

When your feelings are such

To overprotect her

To love her too much

 — .38 Special, “Hold On Loosely”

CEOs need to hold on of course, but “loosely.” You can still have control, but delegate most of the work. Have meetings, checkpoints, or dashboards to keep you aware of what’s going on with your “baby.”

Allow your team to flourish

If you cling too tightly, you are going to lose control because you are telling your people you don’t believe in them. What’s more, they can’t breathe because you are stifling their creativity. Your company simply can’t grow if you don’t give your employees space to learn and grow.

Just as an expert jockey knows when to loosen the reigns a bit to let the horse run hard and be a winner, your team needs to know they can run and do great things for your company too.

Keep your A-players happy

The biggest detriment from micromanaging is that you’ll lose your A-players, and be stuck with B and C-players. You don’t want that to happen. Every successful company is filled with A-players…spend the bulk of your time with THEM, train your B-players too, and work those C-players OUT!

At one of my previous jobs, I had a micromanaging boss. I once wrote an assignment for him, and he recommended changes. I incorporated the changes, and resubmitted. He then changed HIS changes back to my original submission. “Why am I wasting my time?” I thought. I was so miserable and frustrated with his leadership style, that I couldn’t take it anymore and eventually left the company.

Just remember this:  OVER protecting your company — your baby — will only stop it from growing, much like “helicopter parents” stifle their children’s growth. Starting TODAY, “Hold on Loosely”, but don’t let go. With the right grip, watch your people and your “baby” grow beyond your wildest dreams!

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Don Barnes of .38 Special came up with the title. It was something he heard Dinah Shore say on her talk show when she had a guest on talking about giving her husband space in their relationship.  Speaking about the range of influences that show up in this song, co-writer Jim Peterik said: “The bridge was straight out of the Doobie Brothers songbook. If I look at that song, it’s kind of a meld of a lot of influences of mine from that time. The eighth notes are very Cars-like from that time and the bridge was “What a Fool Believes” upside down.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/38_Special_%28band%29

WEBSITE: http://38special.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdLIerfXuZ4

What does it take to be a championship team? There’s not just one secret trait to success. The rock band Queen’s lyrics to We Are The Champions hit on a few:

I’ve paid my dues / time after time

I’ve done my sentence / But committed no crime

Training: If you put the effort into something, you’ll recognize the progress you’ve made over time.

Dedication: You can’t just show up the day of the big meeting without being prepared. You have to put the time and effort into your work.

And bad mistakes / I’ve made a few

I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face / But I’ve come through

Flexibility: Sure, we all make mistakes, but it’s important to adapt and pivot when necessary.

Perseverance: It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Everyone loves a good comeback story.

And we mean to go on and on and on / We are the champions, my friends

And we’ll keep on fighting / Till the end

We are the champions / No time for losers / ‘Cause we are the champions of the world.

Additional characteristics such as having a shared fate, possessing talent, leveraging the strengths of each teammate, and having your teammate’s back are all traits of championship teams. Your team should strive to encompass most if not all of those elements.

Whenever I’m asked what was the best team I’ve ever been on, I think of two top-notch teams: one work-related, one play – and both shared the traits I mentioned above.

Fight ‘Til The End

Quite a few years ago while still in the Air Force and stationed in northern Michigan, I was on a slow pitch softball team. Because we were one of the smaller squadrons – and our mission kept some of us at work and off the diamond – we sometimes had a hard time fielding a full team. Consequently, we recruited anyone to play on the team, even if they hadn’t ever picked up a bat.

Fortunately, our lack of experience didn’t stop us from persevering. We had four or five hitters who could smash a home run at any time, and most of us could play multiple positions well. More importantly, no matter who showed up for the game, we always had each other’s back.

I’d like to say we won the championship that year, but we actually lost the three-game series to a much more talented – and fully staffed – team. In two of the games we were a man short, but we gave it our all, and lost the last game by a couple of runs. I have fond memories of my underdog team and the obstacles we overcame.

No Time For Losers

I was with the White House Communications Agency back in the mid-80s while still in the Air Force. As part of the presidential advance team, we traveled in ahead of POTUS to organize the communications infrastructure at his destination. That way when he and his staff arrived anywhere in the world, they could communicate as if they were sitting at their desks in Washington, D.C.

This is during the time when computers, radio, and satellite communications gear was bulky and heavy. We would load up the trucks, drive to Andrews Air Force Base, unload the truck, load the plane, fly to our destination, unload the plane, load the trucks, drive to the hotel or facility where we would set up shop, and unload the trucks. Within a couple of days, we would have installed a world-class operational office and communications infrastructure.

In addition to the grunt work, we were all communications experts. While we each had our own positions, it was necessary to know a little about everyone else’s role, just in case something happened to any of us. That meant the infrastructure’s backups had to have backups, too. We all knew how important each of our jobs were, and we all knew we had to complete the mission each and every time we were deployed. We were a well-oiled machine with a shared fate.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the advance teams for the first two Reagan-Gorbachev Summits held in Geneva, Switzerland and later in Reykjavik, Iceland. We had three weeks to set up in Geneva, but you may remember the Reykjavik summit was on again and off again as the world leaders were jockeying for position. When the Reykjavik trip was finally “on,” we had to do in one week what it took to do in three weeks in Geneva. This was truly one of those “failure is not an option” scenarios.

It was an INSANE schedule on a world stage and yet we were able to succeed because we had each other’s backs, and we were all dedicated to completing the mission. What’s more, we all had respect for each other, we held each other accountable, and we all pushed each other if someone wasn’t pulling their weight. Both summits were incredible experiences, and those were some of the talented men and women I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Creating Your Own Championship Team

Is your current company the best team you’ve ever been on? If the answer is no, then why not? What can you do to change it?

Gather your team and ask them to think about their best team ever, then capture all of the traits of that team. Now pick the Top 10 Traits, and ask yourself and your team how you measure up against each of them. Those traits you exemplify, keep it up. For those you fall short on, prioritize them and start working on them as a team.

In your weekly and monthly team meetings, discuss the progress you are making on those traits. I can assure you, if you work together on those Top 10 Traits each day at work, your current company will become your best team ever. Then you can proudly sing along with Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” because you’ll know it’s true.

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Written by Freddie Mercury, this song was built on audience response, with Brian May stating; “We wanted to get the crowds waving and singing. It’s very unifying and positive”. In 2011, a team of scientific researchers concluded that the song was the catchiest song in the history of pop music, despite it not hitting #1 in the charts in any major market..

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(band)

WEBSITE: http://queenonline.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY